Europe Commemorates 90th Anniversary of World War I | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.11.2008
  1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages


Europe Commemorates 90th Anniversary of World War I

As what was dubbed the "War to End All Wars" is slowly consigned to history, the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I marks what could well be the last major anniversary for the dwindling numbers of veterans.

An archive picture from 1915 showing troops fighting on the front

Some 300,000 French and German men died in 10 months of bombing at Verdun

The World War I armistice was signed on Nov. 11 -- the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and went down in history as the moment, every year, when the world remembers the dead.

But not many combat veterans will be in attendance at Tuesday's ceremonies. Today, there are few surviving members of the British forces that joined France, Russia and Italy in the battle against Germany and the other Central Powers.

Erich Kastner, the last of the German troops, died on Jan. 1 this year, aged 107. The last French veteran, Italian-born legionnaire Lazare Ponticelli, survived him by only two months, dying on March 12, aged 110.

One of the five remaining British veterans died last week at the age of 108 in Australia, where he moved in 1928, the BBC reported.

Sydney Maurice Lucas, who was born in Leicester, England, on Sept. 21, 1900, regularly led the annual Anzac Day parade in Melbourne, said the report. He was among the last batch of conscripts to be called up in Aug., 1918. In World War II, he volunteered for the Australian army in June 1940 and was posted to a machine-gun unit.

Former French President Francois Mitterand and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl commemorate World War I at Verdun in 1984

Reconciliation: France's Mitterand and Germany's Kohl at Verdun in 1984

Australia is also home to another of the known World War I survivors, 107-year-old Claude Choules.

Meanwhile, three of the veterans still alive in Britain are expected to attend this year's official celebrations.

Henry Allingham, 112, Harry Patch, 110 and Bill Stone, 108, are scheduled to lead a two-minute period of silence at a ceremony in London.

The fight against forgetting

But even though few eye witnesses are still alive, "to forget would be the worst thing," as France's Minister for Veterans' Affairs Jean-Marie Bockel said last week.

"Now that the last (French) veteran has gone, 90 years on we once more share a moment of awareness. This war is part of our collective memory, and he who does not know his past has no future," he said, inaugurating a memorial.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain's Prince Charles, the speaker of the German parliament Peter Mueller and Australia's Governor General Quentin Bryce will hold a solemn ceremony of remembrance on Tuesday.

They will meet at Fort Douaumont, epicenter of the 1916 Battle of Verdun, for speeches and prayers at the ossuary where the remains lie of 300,000 men cut down by machine-gun and artillery fire in 300 days and nights of hell.

Afterwards, Sarkozy will visit the nearby German cemetery. But in a break with tradition, will not commemorate the event at the tomb of the unknown soldier under the Arc de Triomphe in the heart of Paris.

Too many memorial days

The Arc de Triomphe

The tomb of the unknown soldier is the Arc de Triomphe, Paris

While Sarkozy is busy paying tribute to the war's victims, a government-commissioned report said the country should cut back on the number of official memorial days.

World War I, fought in large part on their home soil, cost more than 1.4 million French lives between 1914 and 1918.

With 11 other national days ranging from memorials to the dead of France's colonial wars in Algeria and Indochina to the abolition of slavery, complaints have been made that official commemoration has gone overboard.

"It is not healthy that within half a century, the number of commemorations has doubled," said the report of the commission headed by historian Andre Kaspi.

The commission recommends retaining Armistice Day, the May 8 celebration to mark the defeat of Nazi Germany, and the Bastille Day celebration on July 14, relegating the other commemorations to local or regional events, reported Reuters.

DW recommends